- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009


President Obama’s aggressive approach to Gulf Coast recovery has allowed him to put a liberal policy stamp on the region and apply campaign promises to the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina - from green construction and environmental protection to invigorating urban centers and stressing volunteerism.

As the new administration rolls out more funding for New Orleans and shines a spotlight on bureaucratic backlogs delaying rebuilding, Gulf Coast residents note they are entering a new phase with different needs.

The piles of debris that college students on spring break could pitch in to clear are long gone, new bridges have been erected, and those who could afford to rebuild their homes have done so.

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But many neighborhoods - especially the flattened Lower 9th Ward, one of the city’s poorest areas - remain empty. Former residents are tripped up by paperwork, stuck in housing limbo, or are waiting for the schools and grocery stores to return so their once vibrant communities can rise again.

The Washington Times logged hundreds of miles last week to survey post-Katrina recovery and interview politicians, nonprofit leaders and storm survivors hopeful that Mr. Obama’s pledges will be followed with action.

“At least he’s trying to keep his promise. He has to start somewhere and, to be perfectly honest in light of the bigger problems that he’s facing, to at least do that is a sign that he has not forgotten about us,” said Robert Green Sr., living in a trailer in the Lower 9th, a neighborhood that “was home before Katrina and it will be my home after Katrina.”

Testing ground

Mr. Green this spring will move into a modern “Make It Right” sustainable home, a project created by actor Brad Pitt. He said he’d learned about geothermal and solar panels and wants the Lower 9th to re-emerge with an emphasis on a sustainable future.

“Especially with the changing of the guard, we know that’s going to happen within our lifetime, and we’ll do something that’s going to make a difference,” he said. “We’ll have a community that will be something that Al Gore will want to tour.”

Mr. Green’s trailer is one of the first things tourists and volunteers encounter when coming into the Lower 9th. Prominently on display is a memorial stone for his mother and 3-year-old granddaughter Shanai, killed as his family of seven clung to their rooftop during the August 2005 hurricane.

Last week, he recounted his tale to Department of Energy employees sent to the city in advance of a visit by two of Mr. Obama’s Cabinet secretaries. The workers wiped away tears and Mr. Green comforted them with hugs and said he would keep fighting for families who want to come home: “Don’t worry. I am New Orleans.”

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